Who is the Real Liberal?
Stereotypes and preconceived notions run our lives. Not a situation goes by that we don't try and anticipate what will happen when meeting a new person or undertaking a new experience.
The word stereotype typically conjures up negative images projected onto minorities by conservative bigots. The flamboyant gay man. The man-hating feminist. The gun-toting African American. Those with a more progressive mindset like to brush-off such imagery as inaccurate and offensive. However, it seems that those on the left seem to have their own set of stereotypes and projections that we paint on not only the right, but our allies as well.
The suburb of Sydney that I live in, Newtown, is a centre of progressive and radical ideology. The closest thing I can compare it to is the East Village in New York City. Newtown is primarily inhabited by people under the age of 30; there is a thriving alternative arts and theatre scene; a visible queer culture; and flyers everywhere announcing the latest anarchist or socialist gathering (which seems ironic that these two groups would exist side-by-side). Walking down King Street, you are greeted with a virtual kaleidoscope of colours on the people passing by. Pink hair, men wearing tutus, and purple-and-black-striped stockings are embraced by many of Netown's inhabitants. And while the alternative culture does create a safe environment, it instigates a double standard among residents: It's not OK to just be progressive, many believe you must embrace the radical style in order to be a true liberal.
As with the US, the radicalist culture here promotes its own breed of bigotry. Not only must you talk the talk, but you must look convincing doing it. And seeing as how my weakness is semi-expensive clothing, rarely am I pegged as a progressive-minded, sex positive queer feminist when I meet people out and about. And on rare occasions -- both here and in the States -- I am reprimanded for buying into consumer culture and not embracing second-hand goods and brightly-coloured polyester.
My friend Eileen was very much apart of the radical culture when we first began our education at American University. She attended rallies and marches and protests, and became close to many of her fellow young radicals in the process. But then halfway through the year, Eileen found herself pushed to the outside. She was deemed not progressive enough because she didn't attend every rally, dress like many of her cohorts, and was a meat-eater and not a vegan. And although she did miss many of her friends, she decided to just stop participating in such events because she wasn't feeling the support that she wanted and deserved.
At this point, I'm sure some of my readers are growing tired of my "let's all get along" message that I have driven into the ground over the past year. But it just frustrates me when I encounter resistance based on nothing more that stereotypes and projections of what it means to be progressive. I commend those who dress outrageously, constantly defend any underdog, and resist popular trends and culture -- but that doesn't always fit who I am and my personality. And by decrying me or anyone else who doesn't fit the notion of what is good and right, then how will we ever stand together?